The Yankees dropped two games to the Red Sox up at Fenway Park this weekend, but did it even matter?
In the terms of the rivalry, perhaps the best rivalry in all of American professional sports, yes. The Red Sox, after losing Friday night, whacked around Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia on Saturday and followed it up by mounting a ninth inning comeback against the greatest closer in major league history, Mariano Rivera, en route to a tenth inning walk-off victory. The Red Sox beat the Yankees two greatest weapons, the Yankees only reliable starter and the linchpin of their fantastic bullpen. The Yankee offense, which has been explosive for the past three weeks, was held to an average of three runs per game. The Red Sox, for the fourth series this year, were the better team.
When the Yankees return to Fenway Park at the end of the month, and perhaps if they meet in the ALCS, the questions will be raised again. Can the Yankees beat the Red Sox? What starter can the Yankees rely on to pitch against the Red Sox? Why can’t the Yankees seem to make the big play against the Red Sox? But for now, all of this is muted by the fact that the Yankees are only one game out of a divisional race for which there is not a silver medal for finishing second place, but a golden one. The Wild Card.
The Yankees are currently eight games in front of the Angels, in the loss column, for the Wild Card spot. That’s a week’s worth of games for the Angels to make up in seven weeks left in the regular season. In fairness to the Angels and the Tampa Rays, which are ten games off the pace, they will see the Yankees a good amount of games the rest of the way, beginning this week. But the Yankees have proven that they are the second best team in the league; the only way they could lose eight out of ten to Boston and still be only one game behind them. The Yankees have good recent success against the Angels, a team that for a while had given them fits. But after winning the season series in 2009, then defeating them in the ALCS that year and splitting an eight game season series last year, perhaps the trend has died. The Yankees will also not face red-hot Ervin Santana this week.
And no one expects the offensively inept Rays to be able to make a charge, no matter how much pitching they have.
That makes it a losers out takes the Wild Card race between the Yankees and Red Sox. We’ve seen that the Wild Card makes no difference when it comes to the playoffs. Just ask the Red Sox, who won the series as a Wild Card team in 2004, at the expense of the Yankees in the ALCS. Or the Rockies, who as a Wild Card team, rattled off a seven game winning streak and swept the first two rounds of the postseason in 2007, the most recent example of a Wild Card team reaching the World Series.
There have been talks to make the Wild Card a bit more of a hazard than just being in the shallow rough. The main argument is whether or not there should be a one game or three game playoff between the fourth and fifth place teams to decide the final playoff spot, but whichever side you are on, you can not deny that the Yankees dreadful showing in Boston would have been much more catastrophic and better for the sport if there wasn’t a cushy mat to catch their fall. Detractors will argue that the season shouldn’t come down to a one game playoff, or that a three game series will extend the season and pitchers arms to unacceptable limits. But if you don’t want to be pushed that far, then don’t put yourself in a position to need to win a play-in game/series. Win your division.
A few more quick hits on the series: Jacoby Ellsbury drove in seven runs, including the big blow on Saturday with a three run home run. By comparison, Adrian Gonzalez drove in no runs and failed to put the Yankees away on Friday night by striking out with the bases loaded in the 5th inning. Ellsbury now has 19 home runs and 72 RBI and proved himself to be the best player on the field this past weekend. Not even the most passionate Red Sox fan could imagine this, but Ellsbury has become an legitimate MVP candidate and proved it this weekend.
Mariano Rivera blew his 22nd career save against the Red Sox last night. That number is high, even though he has faced them more than any other team except the Orioles. Rivera’s career save percentage is 89 percent. But against the Red Sox, the number drops to roughly 70 percent. If Rivera can’t get the job done, do you really think that anyone else to? I would argue that if you replace Rivera with an average closer, or even an above average closer, it would drop to 50 percent.
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